With Queen Zee & The Sasstones releasing their first music video, Shaun Ponsonby gets an exclusive behind the scenes look at these grotesquely beautiful stars in the making.
A few weeks ago I was sitting around the house in my underwear, praying for death out of boredom.
Then out of nowhere, I received an invitation from Queen Zee & The Sasstones; Do I want to be an extra in their first music video?
If you are yet to see Queen Zee & The Sasstones, your whole life has been a failure up to this point.
The band basically started as a joke. The short version is thus; It was more of an online alias for frontperson Zee, a way to deal with gender dysmorphia. A show was advertised that they never intended to play. But at the last minute, they decided to go for it, cos why not? With nothing you could call a rehearsal, they blasted The Prodigy’s Firestarter for about 20 minutes.
Since then, they have had a meteoric rise; playing gigs up and down the country, supporting their heroes, headlining Threshold and even a number of plays on Radio One. Each new show seems to convert more superfans attracted to the chaos and queerness. “It’s surreal but we live for the pressure”, Zee confesses. “ I don’t think we’ll ever be content till we know we couldn’t do anymore.”
The success of the band convinced Zee to come out as transgender, and recognising that they were happening, labels started queuing up to sign them. Showing where their priorities lie, rather than going with one of the bigger labels bidding for their affections, they opted for Manchester-based Nice Swan. “They quite simply showed the passion we wanted from a label. We had had a few offers, varying in size, but it was Nice Swan who felt like they were going to love the music as much as us. It was worth being the main focus of a label just starting out, than get lost in a bigger one.”
Make no mistake, though, this is no novelty. Queen Zee & The Sasstones are the real deal. They bust through the monotony of the Oasis-worshiping indie bands that plague the scene, playing with passion and humour. You see the influence of everyone from The Misfits, to Dead or Alive, a touch of Peaches, a smattering of Britney Spears, past RuPaul, stopping off at Black Flag and throwing in a bit of John Waters for good measure.
Over the last year or so Zee has transformed into a bona fide star in the making. They might be crude at times, but they are about something; equality, LGBTQ+ rights and a DIY punk ethic. Despite this, at their heart they’re just a stellar punk band. Their performances can often feel like witnessing some kind of warped second coming, where Jesus showed up in drag and threw a basement party.
And so here we are – their first “proper” music video for their debut single on Nice Swan, the aptly titled Sissy Fists. Sets! Extras! Make-up! Lots and lots of make-up!
We made our way to the basement of Elevator Studios, where filming close ups of the band had already been going on for a couple of hours. They already seemed a bit worn out; The Sasstones are a spontaneous bunch, so perhaps miming the same song over and over again was frustrating for them, although Zee is ultimately nonchalant; “I’m not gonna complain having plenty of cameras pointed at me.”
The video appeared to be a straight ahead performance film, one that captures the band in their element. “In my head Sasstones is very visual, so converting to film is important,” Zee tells me. “We didn’t have a particular concept but it had to be the same explosion of colour and energy we try to capture in our songs. So we got all our friends in a basement, turned the lights to pink and just played.”
The spirit of the band is felt through the set. The make-up artists deck us extras out with glitter and pink – a glamorous look that was grotesquely beautiful, undoubtedly the most appropriate aesthetic for the band. Zee is fully dragged out; plastered in make-up, has blue hair, and appears to be wearing a piece of netting with a bright pink bra sticking out.
There was a previous self-filmed video for the original demo version of Sissy Fists made before Zee started transition that has now, understandably, disappeared from the internet. Despite having an actual living, breathing budget for the new video, the Sasstones are determined to keep the principles that got them to where they are; “The band still has that DIY ethic, while now having help from outside, we still planned it ourselves, hired the gear etc. It’s just now we have a family around us who are more talented at their jobs, rather than us feeling like we have to do everything. There is a skill to letting go of your art and letting other people work their magic.”
That DIY ethic is palpable. There was a an almost community feel – this was friends having a good time as much as it was a video shoot. There was no fancy crew members obeying the stars’ every whim. One of the extras would be called on to play the song at the start of every take, and I found myself holding a light during a close-up. Waiting for the director to shout for action, I asked whether this was a promotion or a demotion. “A little bit of both” was the answer.
At one point, after what must have been dozens of run-throughs of Sissy Fists, they start to show their fatigue with the song, complaining about having to listen to it again. “It’s probably my least favourite of the songs we’ve got too”, Zee said, half-joking.
I asked Zee later why they chose Sissy Fists as the first single if it was the band’s least favourite song. “I obsess over our songs trying to always learn, do better, spot the places to work on. So at this point I’d heard Sissy Fists near a million times, about 900,000 too many. I don’t hate it as a song, we were just at a peak over playing time. It was lead single because nothing better really showed our raw nerve.”
Finally, after a short break, the extras were up. Having been sitting around in the corridor with our make-up and glitter (not bragging, but I even brought a pink feather boa for the occasion, although it was molting horribly), we entered the set and were given simple instructions.
As the song played, we were to slowly start getting into the music, and by the end of the song we’d be moshing about the place like our lives depended on it. For a few of these takes, Zee was placed in front of us, lip synching to the song from within the small crowd before joining us for a mosh.
Truth be told, I’m not used to excessive moshing. That probably made me the lame duck in the room – after a few goes I was exhausted and a little winded. But I put on a brave face among the cooler people.
We ran through it a number of times before being dismissed. The band had to stick around for a few more close up shots, but the bulk of the work was done.
We found out the hard way that there was no make-up remover, so we ended up having to walk into town, still covered in the fucked-up pink and glitter get-up that our faces had been caked in. Explaining it to the shopkeeper I bought baby wipes from the remove it was awkward enough. Explaining it to the guy whose side mirror on his van I was using as I took it off was even worse.
But it was worth it. When edited together, the video is a pretty neat visual summary of Queen Zee & The Sasstones. It is chaotic yet stoned immaculate. It is foreboding, yet camp as anything. It is heavy, yet colourful. Glamorous, yet gritty. It could easily stand as a perfect introduction to what is arguably the best band currently bursting out of the North West.
Raise those Sissy Fists.
Sissy Fists is out now on Nice Swan. Click here for more information on Queen Zee & The Sasstones, including upcoming live dates.
Images by Jazamin Sinclair